Monthly Archives: April 2012

Some light on The Portrait of a Lady

No, I am not finished with The Portrait of a Lady yet but I feel as though I should write about the first twenty chapters I have read. A lot of things (sensible or not) have been going in and out of my mind while reading it and though not all may prove to be incisive, pouring them out is healthier than letting them rot in my capably forgetful mind.

One is always in danger of being too much of one thing thus we can say that one’s complacency is only transiently satisfied — this was what I was thinking while reading it. Isabel Archer’s unconstrained practice of liberty got me thinking if there ever was a brake to its profuseness; don’t get me wrong, I admire how she obliviously leaves a mark on people but sometimes I think there’s no harm in thinking (and acting) conventionally. Then again, if that were so, Isabel would not be the charming lady she was and the story would have taken a different turn which would have altered it drastically (haha!). The title itself constitutes ingenuity as well as deception because you can never verify the truthfulness of your opinion on a portrait unless you have gained first-class access to the painter’s whimsical basis for painting it. This may not be a universally-accepted fact but being a woman myself, we have the tendency to be fickle and this volatility addles the mind of one who perceives thereby heightening or decimating the initial perception. On the whole, I’m not really sure whether or not I like Isabel Archer. When I read her description on the back cover — a young American woman with looks, wit, and imagination — I instantly liked her and I even thought she could be comparable to Elizabeth Bennett of Pride and Prejudice but alas, the portrait deceived me. 😉 Like I said, I am not done reading so my perception of her might lean on the brighter side along the way. Nevertheless, I agree with Isabel on some grounds — like this one, for example, a part of her discourse with one of her suitors, Lord Warburton:

“I’ve always been intensely determined to be happy, and I’ve often believed I should be. I’ve told people that; you can ask them. But it comes over me every now and then I can never be happy in an extraordinary way; not by turning away, by separating myself.”

“By separating yourself from what?”

“From life. From the usual chances and dangers, from what most people know and suffer.”

By the way, no value of casuistry could convince me to desecrate my copy of The Portrait of a Lady, tradition prevailed after all. And I have another reason to be happy, I finally found James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and since I did not want to leave my search in vain, I did not hesitate to pick it up. 🙂


Accidental treasure

My hands have been dying to get itself on a classic which was why I felt smugly triumphant when I emerged from the second-hand bookstore that I love. Poring over the classic titles that lined one of its shelves, my heart literally skipped a beat when I saw The Portrait of a Lady, not because it’s a specific title I sought but because I thought I finally found James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. So yea, I got too excited but I actually had reason to be because it was in the same place that I found Joyce’s Dubliners. Albeit disappointed, I picked it up and mechanically turned to the back cover to spoil myself. And wow, I ended up buying it.

oh portrait

I have not finished reading it yet but because I am, I might finally get idiosyncratic when it comes to handling my books. You see, I normally don’t fill my books with highlights and though I love quoting, I feel as though it’s a sacrilege to desecrate a book with colorful marks. Writing it down or saving it on my phone is what I have grown accustomed to. With The Portrait of a Lady, I might as well grab my orange marker and highlight –well, I don’t know– everything! Hahaha. Perhaps not all of it but each page has something worth noting that I can hardly keep up with writing it down. Oh why does it have to be so good?

Once I’m done with it, I might write something about it here even if my writing won’t give the novel its worthy praise. 🙂


A bit of musing

“Maybe this is why we read, and why in moments of darkness we return to books: to find words for what we already know.”

I may have quoted Alberto Manguel but don’t get me wrong, I only stumbled upon this aphorism on one of my prolific days on the internet thus you can expect I know none of his works. I should probably give him the attention he rightfully deserves not only because I might let another literary genius slip my fingers but also because the statement above is more than sufficing enough to convince me; but I also think I’m giving him enough attention (if not the most) by making his elucidating statement the object of my expatiation’s revolution.

Sometimes it’s unavoidable that in reading, our eyes simply read through the words without taking in its meaning but when we come upon something catchy, we surprise ourselves by going past reading and actually remembering it by heart. I believe the reason for this is because it relates too much of what we are and what we do in our lives. This was what I thought while reading Joanna Hershon’s The Outside of August — although some of the characters were idiosyncratic in their ways, the main character, Alice, shared some thoughts pertaining to human strengths and foibles that we sometimes tend to overlook. I was particularly amused with Charlotte’s (Alice’s mother) response to her daughter’s question as to why August (Alice’s brother) took great interest in swimming far off from the shore. She said, “Your brother needs to know what it feels like to be far away from everything familiar, in order to know how to love it.” It reminded me so much of Honey and Clover, of one of Takemoto’s many inspiring musings, “Pedaling my blue bicycle, I wondered how far can I go without turning back?” which he finally found an answer to after going soul-searching on his bicycle where he finally knew he had to leave just to realize how important the people he left were.

That’s Takemoto biking his way to Hokkaido

For me, there is that relieving sense when you see your thoughts of yourself and around made ostensible by other people’s words. I’m not saying it’s a relief that others have spared you the task of describing but it’s uplifting to know that you share in others’ perception which I think humbles, unites, and defines us as wholly humans. So once again — as one might note that I happen to be fond of quoting — I have some passages from The Outside of August that I think might relate to you one way or another.

“She (Alice) was more likely to focus for days on comments that no one would remember saying.”

“…she could go for days not noticing people, days where faces and figures blended together no more distinctly than leaves. But on some days…they’d pierce through the masses as wholly separate — painfully separate — in their startling individuality.”

“One morning she caught herself shaking up a piece of blue beach glass and putting it in her father’s coat pocket, only to realize that it too had to have a justification for being kept. It was no longer a charming oddity idly pocketed, but one more item in a pile that was waiting to be disbanded and scattered amongst strangers.”

Do you find yourself doing these once in a while? 🙂

Gap Creek and some lines

I still have a few books waiting to be read and although I have ample time on my hands, I have only accumulated enough to finish Robert Morgan’s Gap Creek. I have to be honest, I was intrigued with the book because it has that Oprah’s Book Club logo printed on its cover. Although I am not a big fan of hers since I have not seen a lot of her show, I find that any book might be worth reading if it’s on a notable person’s book club (at least for me :p). I have no regrets, however, because I have taken a liking lately to realism in any medium and Gap Creek did not falter at all in its dose of reality.

I was intrigued

I have not read other stories about marriages so I cannot say Gap Creek is different from others because blah…What I can say though is its verisimilitude is so vividly painted that one could also heave cries of pain when the main character, Julie, does so. It takes talent to have a perfect picture painted in someone else’s mind but it takes greater talent to move a heart as well. In the beginning of the story, Julie, although already a victim of life’s strains, was somehow complacent with running her family that recently lost a father. Apparently she was too absorbed with hard work (note the word hard) even at a young age of seventeen that she hardly entertained thoughts of falling in love. Along came Hank and everything flourished into a consequence of love at first sight. Because it’s realistic, this story has none of those usual promises of love at first sight. So Julie and Hank, equipped with nothing save a few belongings, got married and moved to this old house owned by a stubborn somewhat smutty old man and here they discovered that marriage was anything but easy. They had to put up with hunger, deaths, a small house fire, a flash flood, a snappy mother-in-law (for Julie), and most of all, with each other; but at the end of the day, they had to do with what they got and be thankful for it. It was nice that although Hank’s intractability somewhat debilitated their relationship, there were inevitable circumstances that made them stronger and able to move ahead.

There were a couple of lines in the story that I find rather notable and I would like to end this post by sharing a few. Julie is the narrator so it’s on a first person point-of-view.

“What a wonderful thing music is, I thought. I had forgot how good music is in a public place. It was just a little organ, but it gathered and pushed the air in the sweetest breath…The organ music was living breath. And when the song leader started to sing and we joined in, I seen I had forgot how voices joined together. One voice may be beautiful, and some voices not so beautiful by themselves. But when they all joined in the church it was something different.”

On giving birth, Julie had this to say:

“This is my work, I thought. This is the work only I can do. This is work meant for me from the beginning of time. And this is work leading me in an endless chain of people all the way to the end of time.”

And my favorite…

“Nothing ever worked out that perfect in this world. And if I wanted it too bad it would never happen. The world was made so people never got what they wanted most. Or maybe they wanted most what they couldn’t never get.”

Beauty in retrospect

In my quest for better topics, I came across a passage from the second installment of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, in the words of Treebeard the Ent:

          “But then the Great Darkness came, and they passed away over the Sea, or fled into far valleys, and hid themselves, and made songs about days that would never come again. Never again…Those were the broad days! Time was when I could walk and sing all day and hear no more than the echo of my own voice in the hollow hills. The woods were like the woods of Lothlórien, only thicker, stronger, younger. And the smell of the air! I used to spend a week just breathing!”

(No worries. One does not have to be Middle Earth savvy to keep reading, since this article is based on that passage alone of the book.)

We have to accept it. Since the beginning of man’s complacent settlement, a lot has been sacrificed to make way for obvious development. These obvious developments come in different forms of infrastructure and to have these manifest, once pristine beauties have to be given up. Long has gone the time when the air is as pure as the water is clear; human activities have led to the earth’s present state which is such a pity because as they say  we are simply borrowing the world from our children. When the time will come that our children will profess their turns in this world, they will shake their heads at their forefathers’ disdainful treatment to their home.

something to feast your eyes on

In exposing myself to reading materials made way before my time or your time, for that matter (classics), I have discovered a temporal existence that cannot be experienced today, and if it could, you must encounter countless impediments to actually experience it. Though The Lord of the Rings is a work of incredible fiction, the nature described is a personified reflection of what used to be and what cannot be anymore. At one point in high school, we trekked the mountains of Bucari, Leon to behold one of its hidden beauties – a towering waterfall. See, we had to slip, jump, and fall numerous times to be beguiled by the waterfall even for just a short time; but for all the challenges faced, it was worth it. But of course, natural beauties are not only limited to waterfalls, if we know how to appreciate what’s in our backyard, a simple landscape can become a transfixing wonder. In my abode somewhere in Iloilo City, there was a vast area of green land where we used to go and embrace its untouched splendor but it had been converted into a roadway leading to the coastal road. Like I said, something has to be given up to make way for necessity. A friend once remarked that she had to go to our area to actually get a whiff of fresh air which, of course, is exaggerated since no air in the city could ever be pure anymore, but those were the good old days because all that’s left of that seemingly pure air had been taken by the coal power plant operating in the vicinity.

Although we know these changes are being done for the better of the community, still one cannot help but be somewhat bitter at what is happening. Time will come when there will no longer be even hidden beauties to discover, no meager fresh air to sniff, no natural landscapes to take snapshots of. All I’m saying is if there are still coconuts in your backyard to crane your neck at, then keep your neck craning because albeit time is gone when we could spend a week just breathing, we could at least spend an hour to behold at what’s left.

*photo courtesy of Dragoroth-stock 🙂